Our Research Programs

Research Program 1:
Materials and design – to reduce products’ environmental impact

This program will develop plastic compositions that are more easily recycled or composted, and product designs which eliminate their unnecessary use, enable their reuse, avoid problematic plastics and material complexity, and increase recycled content.

Indicative Key Outputs:

  • Design guidelines considering alternative designs, material options and locally available end-of-life pathways, informed by regulatory constraints, user engagement and life cycle analysis, targeting an overall reduction in plastic waste.
  • Improved product designs with optimal material selection, refined against a range of constraints, to achieve plastic circularity, low environmental impact, and consumer acceptance.
  • Improved plastic formulations for use in products designed to be more easily sorted and recycled back into high value applications.
  • Plastic composition with degradation properties that can be tailored to the rates required for their end-use applications and end-of-life disposal.

Indicative Key Outcomes:

  • Design guidelines for adoption by Australian companies seeking to redesign plastic products for reduced environmental impact.
  • Pathways to commercialise redesigned products.
  • Attractive material options for companies redesigning plastic products to enhance their end-of-life waste stream separation and recyclability and deliver more consistent recycled plastics of higher value over multiple life cycles.
  • The development of sustainable packaging materials made from bio-derived polymers meeting municipal end-of-life collection and composting standards (ASTM 6500).

Research Program 2: 
Maximising the recovery and value of end-of-life plastics

This program will increase the recovery, sorting and recycling of plastics, maximising the value of the recyclates and expanding the markets for products that contain them. It will also enhance technologies for energy recovery from plastic waste.

Indicative Key Outputs:

  • Insights and programs for improving the recovery and sorting of plastics prior to their collection.
  • Technologies that improve the purity and value of sorted plastic pellets and flake for use in recycling operations.
  • Improved designs for low-cost mechanical recycling extruders, mixed waste compositions for making non-structural timber substitutes, products that expand markets for recycled plastics.
  • Understanding how to better control chemical recycling processes.
  • Optimised conditions for operating a pyrolysis process.

Indicative Key Outcomes:

  • Programs to increase public participation in plastics recycling.
  • Improved efficiency of sorting plastic waste.
  • Establishment of remote recycling facilities using waste collected from remote and First Nations communities.
  • Improved chemical recycling production processes.
  • Improved efficiency of a pyrolysis facility.

Research Program 3:
Implementing a circular economy for plastics in Australia

This program will scale the delivery of a carbon neutral circular economy for plastics by developing circular business models and markets, evidence-based policy advice and globally-informed strategies, underpinned by a robust evidence base for industry decision-making.

Indicative Key Outputs:

  • Sectoral foresight reports and an online platform to understand the implications of how individual and widespread adoption of circular economic approaches interact across supply chains from agricultural plastic waste to medical waste and consumer packaging.
  • Insights on business opportunities for a circular plastics economy, as well as the business ecosystem needed to support sector-specific innovation in business models and scaling up viable solutions.
  • Policy insights and capacity-building guides enabling and incentivising circular design, sustainable consumption, and responsible products and materials stewardship, including via supply chain partnerships.
  • Databases, economic calculators, online guides, benchmarking and reporting tools for companies and sectors to improve performance.

Indicative Key Outcomes:

  • Increased commitment and social licence for the adoption of circular plastics solutions and an awareness of path dependencies and the finance required for roll-out.
  • Intelligence for programs accelerating circular economy business development.
  • A policy framework to guide the establishment of a mature circular economy for plastics in Australia.
  • Accelerated adoption of a carbon neutral circular economy.

Research Program 4:
Mitigating the risk of microplastics in agricultural soils

This program will develop standardised methods to determine the sources, fate, and dispersion of microplastics in Australia’s agricultural soils, examine the long-term risks to human and environmental health and provide effective mitigation strategies to reduce the transmission of microplastics to Australian soils.

Indicative Key Outputs:

  • Standardised, specific methods for sample collection, isolation, identification and analysis of microplastics in agricultural soils and the body burden of livestock.
  • An Australian data inventory (microplastic types, concentration, and composition) for the status of microplastic contamination in agricultural soils and products.
  • Identification of the potential toxicity of microplastic pollution and its critical threshold values in soil, crops and livestock.
  • Matrix specific technologies for the effective destruction/removal of microplastics from soil amendments prior to field application.
  • Understanding the risk that microplastics in agricultural soils pose in terms of their persistent organic pollutant burden, and soil concentration compared with the predicted no effect concentration.

Indicative Key Outcomes:

  • Standard protocols for the collection, isolation, quantification, and characterisation of microplastics from soil.
  • A database mapping soil microplastic hotspots around Australia
  • Critical threshold values for microplastic in soil, crops, and livestock.
  • Electrochemical, physical, and biological approaches to remove microplastics from supply chains, and mitigate microplastic soil contamination.
  • Understanding of the human and ecosystem risk from microplastic-associated persistent organic pollutants.

Education & Training (E&T) Program

The E&T Program is an integral component of the CRC, enabled by a collaborative network of research partners across Australia, and a cross-section of industry partners that span the entire plastics value chain.

PhD Program

At the core of the E&T Program is a unique industry focused skills program aimed at developing the capabilities of PhD graduates and postdoctoral fellows to operate across the research-practice boundary. The Industry Doctoral Program will produce graduates able to access career pathways across the circular economy for plastics, in industry, research laboratories, or in academia while also providing postdoctoral fellows with enhanced and well-rounded industry engagement experience and skills.

Industry Development

The CRC will also offer micro-credentials (MCs) for industry managers and professionals aimed at building a deeper understanding of the upstream and downstream challenges and opportunities to develop solutions for plastic waste.

The E&T Program will be a fundamental legacy of the CRC, establishing an ongoing multi-disciplinary alumni network, strengthening Australia’s circular economy research, and underpinning the skills and capabilities required in industry to develop, grow, and sustain a thriving circular economy for plastics.